Last week marked the sixth anniversary of LIFE Camp’s New York Peace Week celebration, and the first official year it was on the New York City calendar. From Jan. 15 to 22, LIFE Camp hosted and coordinated a weeklong series of events in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of non-violence. There were various events, ranging from a forgiveness dinner, a basketball tournament, panels with noted activists and artists and an open dialogue among men, women and children to help restore the family unit impacted by violence. The goal of this weeklong series of events was to spread awareness about gun violence and to get people to think more seriously about guns and the roles they play in various communities.
Erica Ford, the CEO and founder of LIFE, Camp (Love Ignites Freedom Through Education), formed the organization with her colleagues in 2002 after the tragic murders of two children in her community. The goal of LIFE Camp is to “provide at-risk inner-city youth, ages 13 to 24 years, the valuable tools they need to stay in school and out of the criminal justice system. The program also offers these individuals educational, employment and social opportunities they might not otherwise have.”
Every year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by gun violence. Peace Week stems from the work Ford and her colleagues conduct 365 days each year. The various activities during Peace Week serve as a valuable educational tool as well as an inspiration to many young people in communities where gun violence has become normalized. Ford’s goal is to “make Peace a LIFEstyle.”
A central component of the Peace Week campaign is the Peace Week Pledge. The Peace Week Pledge is designed to reinforce each individual’s personal commitment to “making Peace a LIFEstyle” 365 days a year. Those who take the pledge are encouraged to share their commitment with those in school, co-workers, family and friends.
The philosophy behind this commitment is that it is our collective responsibility to end gun violence. We all can play a part, large and small. Witnessing those assembled during some of the Peace Week activities, it is apparent that Ford believes that everyone is great at something and has the capacity to teach others some of the knowledge they possess. It is not often one attends an event with elected officials, formerly incarcerated citizens who are now leaders and peace keepers within their communities, urban yogis who teach yoga to those in their housing developments, gun control activists and family members who have lost loved ones to gun violence, to name just a few. During Peace Week, all of these groups come together to find solutions to our some of the ills within our community.
I commend Ford and all of the elected officials in New York City who made Peace Week a reality and now a recognized officially on the city calendar. For those of you who did not participate this year, get ready for January 2017. And don’t forget to wear orange—the color of peace!
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration and the Pursuit of the American Dream.” You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.